THE POSTAL MODERNS
Meet the ever-growing network of mail artists.
Blog: Life in Letters – March 14, 2014
Reposted from – http://uspsstamps.com/stories/postal-moderns
Jennie Hinchcliff isn’t surprised to find tiny polar bears inside her P.O. Box. Affixed to a postcard from one of her friends, they create a stark but welcome contrast to the unremitting bills and promotions. For Jennie, checking her mail is like opening the door to a different art gallery every day. Jennie is a mail artist.
But we’re not talking about the occasional hand-drawn flourish on a letter to your grandma. In fact, pieces of mail art may not bear any additional content besides the recipient’s name and address. The packaging is the content.
It’s a growing movement, known as “Postal Modernism,” where people like Hinchcliff use the United States Postal Service® to share their artful creations. The idea has roots in the mid-century New York art scene, where experimental artist Ray Johnson started the New York Correspondence School. By distributing his artwork in the form of postcards and envelopes, he successfully circumvented the norms of exhibition — on the cheap.
Today, groups like the International Union of Mail Artists, Snail Mail Joy, and Mail Me Art foster global networks for mail art connection and exchange. Besides being a passionate mail artist, Hinchcliff has co-authored the book Good Mail Day, and recently co-organized the San Francisco Ex Postal Facto conference — an event focused on Postal Modernism, correspondence art, and faux philatelics (the art of creating stamps, cancellations, and other postal markings for art’s sake). Here, she discusses mail art and how it’s bringing beauty to its proponents — and mailboxes — around the world.
HOW DID YOU FIRST ENCOUNTER MAIL ART?
When I was in fourth or fifth grade, I discovered a copy of Randy Harelson’s book SWAK: The Complete Book of Mail Fun for Kidsat the local library. I was mesmerized by page after page of things you could do through the U.S. Postal Service: Collect special postal cancellations, send away for celebrity autographs, create your own envelopes.
Toward the back of the book, I noticed a handful of pages devoted to artists with names like Anna Banana and The CrackerJack Kid, alongside artwork that was unlike anything I’d ever seen. I thought about those artists all summer long. It was a revelation.
NOW AS AN ADULT, YOU’RE A MAIL ARTIST WHO ASCRIBES TO POSTAL MODERNISM. TELL US WHAT THAT MEANS.
The mail art genre is a loosely defined community of artists around the world who use their various postal systems to send and receive artwork to each other. Mail art is all about creating a personal network — a group of folks to correspond with. Those people, in turn, pass your name on to others, who write back and continue the chain. These groups of motivated, postally passionate people overlap, but they’re constantly expanding and picking up newcomers along the way.
In the spirit of mail art, individuals should create because they want to, and share because they’re inspired. This is what it means to be a “postal modern”: connected, creative, and cognizant. We believe that mail art matters, that sending a piece of creative correspondence can change your outlook as well as that of the receiver. Creating, sending, and receiving are all part of the greater act — it’s a participatory ritual.
DO YOU HAVE A PARTICULAR MAIL-ART AESTHETIC?
I’d say my style is a mash-up of old stuff, left-behind items, and things people would never think to send through the mail. I love the beauty of small details.
I also seek out any sort of old-school rubber stamp related to the Post Office or office work; these particular imprints have a history attached to them, which creates a story for viewers to fill in the gaps. I’m always on the lookout for things that are older than I am, that speak of other eras. That could mean mixing ink to achieve a specific color, or using a certain paper because of the way it smells. I like making artwork that seems to have been buried in a time capsule.
TELL US ABOUT THE MOST MEMORABLE PIECE OF MAIL ART YOU’VE RECEIVED.
I receive a lot of wacky things. One of the funniest things, however, came from correspondent James C., who mailed me an oversize plaid teddy bear wearing a black Halloween mask. The funny part wasn’t the bear itself; it was the fact that I walked home through San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury district carrying a giant plaid teddy bear! It’s hard to get people to stare at you on Haight Street, but I managed to do it that day.
All mail art is made by Jennie Hinchcliff.